The mood atop the Hard Rock Hotel during Activision's Marvel Games event at 2008's Comic-Con International in San Diego was more party than press conference - free drinks, booming music, and Stan "The Man" Lee making the scene like a rock star. But at least one of the games for which this was the "coming-out party" is anything but a good time for its lead character.
Released this October, "Spider-Man: Web of Shadows" (see the trailer here) sees the Wall-Crawler in his darkest adventure yet: an invasion of Venom symbiotes has turned Manhattan into Hell on Earth, with the city sealed off by a S.H.I.E.L.D. quarantine, ordinary citizens running amok, and the Big Apple's heroes and villains struggling to survive. In the segments screened and made available for playing by Activision and developer Shaba Games at Comic-Con, Spider-Man and allies like Luke Cage face an array of symbiote-possessed enemies, from average New Yorkers to a squad of Iron Men to Wolverine himself - with claws exploding from every inch of his black-clad body.
Spidey's key to stopping the invasion may be using his own symbiote-derived black suit - a choice that, according to Activision, will carry with it serious story-based consequences that will change the game.
Writer Brian Reed is the man responsible for bringing Spider-Man to his darkest hour. A veteran of both comics ("Ms. Marvel," "Captain Marvel: Secret Invasion") and video games ("Ultimate Spider-Man"), Reed talked to CBR News about what makes the new game so different from other Spidey efforts, what it's like to bridge the worlds of gaming and comics, and what part of the game he can't believe he got away with.
Screenshot from "Spider-Man: Web of Shadows"
"Web of Shadows" sounds somewhat similar to Brian Bendis' "Venom Bomb" storyline from "Mighty Avengers." Coincidence?
It actually is coincidence. It's something that I knew was coming up in "Avengers," but when they hired me for this game they already had their story in place of what they were going to be doing overall. I told them right out of the gate, "Hey guys, this is a little similar." [Laughs] As we discussed it we realized that there were enough differences between them that it was [only] similar in that "Spider-Man's fought Green Goblin before" way. You know, "Green Goblin's back - how do you do a new story?" Same thing. There's a lot of symbiotes? Well, we've seen that - how do you do it in this video game in a different way?
The game appears to have a post-apocalyptic vibe.
It's got a really nice zombie-movie feel to it. It's nice that as the story goes on it gets darker and darker and darker. It hits the point where you think it can't get any worse - and then it does. So I love it, because that's something we haven't done in a Spider-Man video game so far.
You bring a comics background to working on the game, just as you brought a video game background to working on comics. How do you translate the storytelling rhythms and "Marvel vibe" of one medium to the other?
A lot of my job is making sure the characters sound like who they are. Spider-Man has a cadence to his speech, and it doesn't matter if it's Stan Lee or whoever else writing him. He's got this way of speaking, and it's [about] making sure you match that, and making sure the jokes sound like Spider-Man jokes. That's the first part of the job. The second part is just making sure the adventure feels like a Spider-Man adventure, even though you are going to this really dark and twisted place. You know, Spider-Man can do that in the comics with [books] like "Kraven's Last Hunt." But at the same time you can have these really fun little moments, like Spider-Man fighting Big Wheel or something. It's a little goofy, but they're both still obviously events from the same character's life.
Are you saying Spider-Man fights Big Wheel in this game?
I wish! [Laughs] When I worked for Activision full time and was designing video games, every time we'd start a new Spider-Man game, you look at the list of available characters and Big Wheel is on that list. And every time, we'd be like, "We're usin' Big Wheel this time!" And every time he rolls right of the list. [Laughs]
But there are some familiar faces in "Web of Shadows," such as Luke Cage and a symbiote-infected Wolverine.
There is a nice big cast coming with this game.
Do you have favorite characters to work with?
Writing Spider-Man is the best day job in the world. In fact, I just got to meet Stan Lee a little while ago for the first time since I've become a pro, and I said, "Look, Stan, I have this job because of you, and I have the greatest job in the world, and I want to thank you for it." [Laughs] Spider-Man is the guy, for me. He's who I grew up with. All of my allowance money went to Spider-Man comic books. He's the reason I know the Marvel Universe at all - because I bought everything with Spider-Man in it. So yeah, they keep hiring me to write Spider-Man games and I keep taking the jobs, because I could spend all day with Spider-Man.
Is it that darker tone you mentioned that separates this Spidey game from its predecessors? What's new that fans should look forward to the most?
The biggest thing here is the choice of what power you're going to use - the differences between that red and blue suit and that black suit and what they mean to Spider-Man. With great power comes great responsibility. What happens when you quit paying attention to that responsibility? That's something we haven't done in a video game before, and we haven't explored it a lot in comics recently, and it's been fun to play with.
Are there consequences that come with which suit players choose? It's not just a different color scheme and a different set of powers?
There are effects to both of them.
How do you feel to see your handiwork being played by outsiders for the first time?
This is the first time I've seen it really working. I saw an early build, like, six months ago, and in the last month or so they really got the combat up and running and they really got the city working and living and breathing. Getting in there and seeing it and then seeing the story start cropping up in places? Seeing people running down the street start turning into symbiotes and attacking you? It's like, "Oh my God, that's so cool!" [Laughs]
Is it tough to find the balance between telling a story and creating awesomely playable moments?
They kind of feed off of each other. It's almost like writing a movie in that respect: You think of a cool scene you'd like to have, but then the next step of the video game is "How do we let the player feel that?" Rather than just stop and show you this video of Venom doing XYZ, how do we put you in that scene and make you go "Holy shit, he's doing that?" [Laughs] That's the real fun of the video games - figuring out when to stop that cut scene and when to go back to play and when to let you really get in the middle of this thing and feel those emotions.
Meanwhile, you're starting to see some comics pick up elements of a video game structure and vibe. It's not just a one-way street.
Comics are still a very passive storytelling medium. You sit back and let it wash over you. And that's fantastic. That's what any good novel is, any good movie - that kind of storytelling. As great as "The Godfather" is, one of my favorite movies, I don't want to get stopped and asked "Should we shoot Sonny?" I don't know! [Laughs] Sometimes I just want to be told a good story. I think a lot of what video games have finally been able to do is they can tell you that story. They can give you the chance to impact what's going on, but they can still lead you down a very linear path and still tell you a very good story in the process. They get you involved, and it's great.
Is there one moment in the video game that sticks out that we should watch for?
Nothing I can tell you about right now. [Laughs] There's some bits near the end of the game that as I wrote them, I thought, "Aw, we're not doing this! This is gonna get bounced." And they went through, and they're good, and they're going in. I'm excited to see them.